New study of oceans in the universe raises prospect of extraterrestrial life
This July 14, 2015, photo provided by NASA shows a synthetic perspective view of Pluto, based on the latest high-resolution images to be downlinked from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft.
Scientists have found new evidence to suggest that an ocean on Pluto, previously thought to be frozen, may actually be hidden under an insulating cloud of gas.
The study, published Monday, suggests that there may be more oceans in the universe than previously thought, making the possibility of the existence of extraterrestrial life even more plausible.
In 2015, NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft flew through Pluto’s system, providing the first-ever close-up images of the dwarf planet.
The images led scientists to believe that a subsurface ocean existed beneath an ice shell that thinned at a basin roughly the size of Texas. But the formation shown in the images contradicted what was previously thought about the surface because the inner surface of the ice shell that faces towards the ocean should have appeared flat.
Now researchers at Japan's Hokkaido University, the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Tokushima University, Osaka University, Kobe University, and at the University of California, Santa Cruz, have hypothesized that an insulated layer of gas may have prevented the ocean from freezing.
Researchers created two simulations spanning 4.6 billion years, when Pluto’s solar system began to form; one with an insulating layer of gas and one without.
According to the simulation, without a gas layer, the subsurface ocean would have frozen completely millions of years ago. But with the layer of insulation, it would take more than one billion years.
"This could mean there are more oceans in the universe than previously thought, making the existence of extraterrestrial life more plausible," Shunichi Kamata, lead research at Hokkaido University, said in a statement.